The Vanishing Pastor

     At the appointed time for the service to begin, the pastor approached the pulpit.  With a welcoming voice, he greeted the gathered congregation and exhorted them to stand and pray for God’s presence to be in the service and for God to anoint the singers, musicians, preachers, and congregation to join in one mind and one accord in worship to God.  Once the opening prayer was ended, the pastor invited the song leader to come to the pulpit and lead the congregation in a series of worship songs from a hymnal which contained musical worship, some of which had been written by dedicated song writers over one hundred years ago.  The songs themselves were testaments of the power of God and His promises to the church and were representative of the core values on which the church had been established.
      With the enthusiasm shown by the dedicated song leader and musicians, the congregation quickly began to rejoice in the songs of Zion, and soon a worshipful, praising spirit saturated the auditorium.  By the time the song leader sat down, there was a spirit of expectancy in the air concerning what other uplifting events were about to take place in the service.
     The pastor, returning to the pulpit, reinforced the spirit of worship and praise and after a few minutes asked the audience to stand.  He then gave them an opportunity to offer any prayer requests they may have had for which the church could pray.  After all requests were made know, the pastor led the church in community prayer for each request.  Once the prayers had subsided and the congregation had sat down, the pastor gave members of the congregation opportunities to give personal testimonies of what God had done for them.  Many times, a congregational member was invited to the pulpit to “lead the testimony service.”  After giving a personal testimony, he/she would invite others to testify who wished to stand and offer their own brief praise to God.
     After a few minutes of testimonies, the pastor returned to the pulpit and invited the singers who had been asked to sing a “special song” to come and present their music.  Sometimes it was a soloist, sometimes a duet, trio, or quartet.  Regardless, the song presented was a song of praise and worship, and many times the audience would respond with corresponding praise.  
    Afterward, the pastor again returned to the pulpit and generally offered any pertinent church announcements which may have been newsworthy for the congregation.  About this time, an offering was taken from the congregation, and tithes and donations were freely given by congregants who wished to support the church.  Additionally, if there were members in the audience who had special needs, be they in the areas of health, finances, or situations, they were invited to come forward to the front of the church, and the pastor along with elders of the church would anoint them with a touch of oil and pray God’s divine intervention on each particular need.
    Eventually, the time came for the sermon to be given.  The pastor took his Bible and opened to particular scriptures which he felt God had laid on his heart.  The congregation would stand, and the scriptures would be read.  Once read, the pastor admonished the congregation to join him in praying that God would give him the words to speak which would encourage, strengthen, and guide the spiritual flock for which he was the shepherd.  The sermon then went forth, sometimes encouraging, sometimes admonishing, sometimes condemning, but always with a pastoral love which was evident in his concern for his church family.
     After delivering the sermon he felt God had laid on his heart, the pastor gave an invitation for those who wished to pray to come forward either to make a commitment or to renew a consecration.  He circulated amongst the praying souls, admonishing, encouraging, and blessing.
    As the service dismissed, the pastor made an effort to greet each congregant as they were leaving, to continue a personal and spiritual relationship with each of his members, and in doing so, encourage each one to “keep the faith."
     What I have just described to you is a church service which is rarely seen in contemporary churches. Under normal circumstances, a church has someone designated as “pastor,” the person who is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the church members, and, because of his/her leadership, is financially supported by the members.  It is a symbiotic relationship; both congregation and pastor need the other to successfully maintain a spiritual relationship to God.  It is interesting that the term “pastor’ is only mentioned nine times in the Bible, and of those, eight appear in one chapter of Jeremiah and once in the New Testament in Ephesians 4:11.  
    In Jeremiah, the prophet establishes what a pastor should be.  He compares a pastor to a shepherd, and even refers in Jeremiah 23:2 to the people a pastor leads to a “flock.”  He describes a pastor as someone “…which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah 3:15.   Jeremiah was also to quickly condemn pastors who did not fulfill their pastoral obligation: “Ye have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not visited them.” Jeremiah 23:2   And in Jeremiah 23:1: “Woe to the pastors that destroy and scatter.” 
    If a pastor is to be like a shepherd, what are the requirements to serve as a competent keeper of the sheep (the congregation?)  It is noteworthy that a shepherd’s job is usually a lonely task.  Surrounded many times by predators who desire to destroy the sheep, the shepherd must be continually alert to surrounding dangers.  Once those dangers are realized, the shepherd moves swiftly to protect the sheep.  He keeps them in sight, closely grouped together, and attentive to his voice.  The sheep are comforted by his soothing voice and visual presence, and, should the sheep sense danger, they are magnetically attracted to the shepherd, expecting protection and encouragement.
   What the shepherd never does, however, is turn his responsibilities and job over to another person because the shepherd knows that no one else will have the dedication and commitment to protect and lead the sheep as he.
    We read in the scriptures of the Parable of the Lost Sheep how the shepherd searched diligently to find the lost lamb.  A shepherd watches for those lambs who may be about to stray and does everything in his power to bring them back into the flock. The competent shepherd is constantly monitoring his flock, ensuring that each lamb is within the circle of safety, well fed, and comfortable.  The good shepherd does not look at his position as a job, but he serves out of a love for his flock.

    Consider now the “contemporary” church service.  The pastor is nowhere to be seen.  As the appointed time draws near, musicians and singers take their places, and the lights of the church dim slightly.  Suddenly a cacophony of noise from drums, keyboards, stringed instruments begins to build until, amongst the singers, a voice begins to loudly proclaim that it’s a time of celebration.  For the next forty-five minutes, the thundering music and deafening voices work feverishly to get the audience worked up to a fever pitch.  The congregation is not expected to sing along; enthusiastic handclapping is the order of the day.  There is a display of words on a screen that lets the audience know what is being sung, but the singers and music drown each other out so that the words are indecipherable, anyway.  But at least there aren’t many words; most song phrases are repeated over and over.
  After the singers and musicians have exhausted themselves, an assistant to the pastor comes to the pulpit and leads the congregation in prayer for the sick or needy, but verbal request are not taken because all requests must be submitted in writing before the service.  They will not be read; just acknowledged.  Afterward, another assistant will come to the pulpit and call for the ushers to receive the offering, followed by the assistant reviewing any announcements which may be pertinent to the congregation.
   Finally, after the hour or so of preliminaries, the pastor takes the pulpit and delivers his sermon.  Following the sermon, there may be praying around the altars.  Once dismissal occurs, the pastor disappears to the confines of his office; there is very little mingling with the congregation.

    The two church services I have described give a clue as to why the spiritual footprint of the pastor of a church has become smaller, and his influence on his congregation weaker.  By the very fact that he was much more visible, the pastor in the first example was able to establish a rapport with his flock, not just as a pastor but also as friend who showed concern for a fellow member.  As a result, his church members were much more loyal to him and his church and far less likely to hop from church to church.  The pastor that you see for one hour per week at a distance of one hundred feet is hardly one with which you will feel any connection.
   I find it interesting that, beginning with Matthew 28:19 when Jesus admonished his disciples to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” he was commissioning them to become preachers and spread the Gospel.  Every scripture which refers to evangelism and spreading the Word is aimed at the ministry, and yet in recent years the ministry has skillfully slid that responsibility off their backs to the common church member who is just trying to stay saved.  Those who should be leading the charge to spread the news of salvation are rather in the background admonishing the spiritual troops to advance.  There was a day when a church had just a pastor; only on rare situations was there an assistant pastor.  Today it is not uncommon for there to be several licensed ministers in a congregation, even in a church of modest size.
   I have to wonder; How can a person be “called to preach” and then have no desire to go preach?  We have churches in our area with no pastors, and yet we have “ministers” taking up offerings.  I know of many great ministers of the past who were called to preach at an early age and without training, without a seminary degree, and without monetary support started evangelizing and preaching because they had the burning desire to answer the call they had received.  The UPCI has seen a tremendous drop in the number of ministers willing to evangelize, while at the same time our churches are overstocked with preachers. Why?  No desire to “Go ye therefore…”
   The same thing, I believe, applies to pastoring.  We have pastors who like to have the honor of being a pastor, but do not care to fulfill the duties of a pastor.  Content to accept the respect a pastor deserves, they at the same time delegate as many pastoral duties to preacher wanna-bes as possible, and therefore reap the rewards without the hardships.  Content to preach…but not pastor, they show up at church for their grand entrances, then slip quietly away when the spotlight is turned off.  I am convinced after years of observation of this fact: to be a pastor you need to be a preacher, but many preachers are not qualified to be pastors.

    Does all this rambling get me off the hook as a common church member? Absolutely not.  The scriptures are very clear how we as church members should live and conduct ourselves.  We pray for guidance. We are faithful to church, both in attendance and offerings.  We honor our pastor and those in positions of responsibility.  We represent the church to our friends and loved ones and encourage them to seek out their salvation. We lift up and encourage one another.  If we see one of us straying, we gently try to nudge that person back into the fold.  Most of all, we stick together and follow our shepherd.  Someday we…and our shepherd…will answer for our deeds.